What to look for (and what to avoid)

As more and more of us look to make more conscious choices in our lives many are turning to plant-based lifestyles. This means not only reassessing the food we eat but also the personal care and cosmetic products that we use. Many of us are then surprised to learn the truth behind the ingredients in our cosmetics; from ground up animal claw and horns to animal fats, the most important thing when choosing your health and beauty products is to know exactly what’s in them and make an informed choice.

The movement towards vegan makeup and cosmetics is one that has been taking the beauty industry by storm in recent years and is undoubtedly here to stay! But, for all its progress in the natural and organic space the beauty industry can still be pretty shady at times. Animal testing and palm oil are still widespread and knowing if a product is truly vegan and cruelty can be pretty blumming confusing.

Whether you are already a vegan makeup guru or just embarking on your vegan beauty journey, this guide is for you.

Here we’ll cover:

  1. What is vegan beauty and how to know what animal products to look out for
  2. Vegan vs. Cruelty Free products
  3. Vegan Brand vs. Vegan Product
  4. Read the label: Vegan certifications and Logos.
  5. How to read ingredients and know a products vegan


What is Vegan Beauty

For personal care and cosmetics products to be labelled vegan they must be tested and proven not to contain :

  • animal products
  • animal by-products
  • animal derivatives


How to know what animal products to look out for?

There are many animal ingredients that are commonly found in personal care and cosmetic products that can be either obtained from living animals or come from animal remains. Some animal ingredients, if sourced sustainably and cruelty free can be really beneficial for human health and do not cause harm to animals, but vegan products avoid all of these animal ingredients. For example, shellac is made from the excretions of lac scale insects and collected from the branches the insects live on. Other commonly found animal ingredients found in health and beauty products are:


  • Gelatin (Gel/Gelatine/Hide Glue/Insin Glass): Commonly found in cosmetics with a creamy-consistency such as lotions, face creams, hair products, nail products, face masks, shampoos, sunscreens and more. It is produced from boiled animal bones, ligaments and tendons.

    For a vegan alternative look for products that use fatty acids from coconut oil and vegetable fats instead.


  • Bee Products: Bees produce a lot of products that are very popular and beneficial in cosmetic ingredients such as beeswax, honey,  propolis and royal jelly. You’ll regularly find bee derived ingredients in lip balms, creams, mascaras and eyeshadows for example.  

    To replace with vegan alternatives look for products that use vegetable glycerin or candelilla or carnauba wax instead.


  • Carmine/Cochineal Dye/Natural Red 4: Found in many blushes, lipsticks, shampoos and powders, this ingredient is a bright red dye produced from crushed female Cochineal beetles. This ingredient produces vibrant red and pink pigmentation.

    Some great plant-based alternatives for carmine include beet juice, annatto extract and alkanet root.


  • Hyaluronic Acid: A naturally-occurring molecule found in the human body that is popularly used for its’ amazing ability to retain moisture in the skin. Found in many anti-aging skin care products, due to its’ ability to plump and revitalise skin, giving it a more youthful appearance.

    What is often not known about hyaluronic acid though is that is typically sourced from the red top of a cockerel’s head; from its comb. When shopping for this ingredient, be sure to look for hyaluronic acid that has been produced through bio-fermentation.

    There are however many plants that contain hyaluronic acid so finding a vegan friendly alternative is not difficult. Look for hyaluronic acid that has been produced through bio-fermentation. This acid is made from a plant-based bacteria that undergoes a vegan-approved fermentation process.


  • Collagen: Often hailed as a miracle ingredient, collagen is used in lip-enhancing products, lipsticks, moisturisers and anti-aging cosmetics that promise a more youthful appearance. It’s a fibrous protein derived from animal tissue that provides a protective barrier to the skin, creating a plumping and firming effect.

    Typically extracted from dead mammals, collagen can also be found in synthetic variations or in a vegetable form made from acacia leaves and fruits.


  • Guanine: The ingredient that gives your highlighters, bronzers and blushers that shimmering, reflective quality. Guanine comes from crushed fish scales. Don’t fancy that? Luckily, there are plenty of vegan options available that do not contain guanine!


  • Silk Powder: Produced by dissolving worms in boiling water, the resulting silk fibres are then added to mineral makeup products. It is used as it is good for absorbing excess oils, softening fine lines, balancing moisture levels and “setting” makeup.

    There is no direct substitute for silk powder but  arrowroot powder is often used as a vegan-friendly alternative.


  • Retinol: Derived from vitamin A this ingredient is almost always sourced from animals and commonly used in anti-aging skin care products.

    Some great plant based alternatives to retinol are mango butter, seaweed extract, sunflower seed oil, chicory root and any other ingredients that are rich in beta-carotene.


  • Musk: Used in many fragrances and colognes musk is sourced from dried secretions of various animal genitalia. Yummy!

    Animals commonly used are otters, beavers, cats and deer. There are some synthetic alternatives to musk but the best plant-based options are those sourced from similarly-scented plants.


  • Animal Fats (Squalene/Tallow/Emu Oil/Mink Oil/Musk Oil/Caprylic acid /Caprylic triglyceride): Found in almost every  moisturising cosmetic product identify it by the names above. What is excellent news is that there are a multitude of oils from plant-based sources that are just as nourishing as animal-based oils. Check out our free Ebook to discover which plant based oil is right for your skin type.


  • Oestrogen: A hormone-based ingredient that is usually extracted from the urine of pregnant horses. Found in many perfumes, creams, shampoos, conditioners and many cosmetics.


  • Keratin:  A fibrous protein that is wondrous for keeping our hair, skin and nails strong and supple. These qualities make it hugely popular in hair products such as shampoos, conditioners and leave-in treatments aimed at rejuvenating hair.

    So where does it come from? It is usually produced from quills, horns, hooves and the animal hair. There is no plant- based alternative to keratin protein but it can be produced synthetically in a lab.

    Vegan keratin products do exist but you may need to search a bit, keeping your eye out for plant amino acids in place of animal-derived keratin.


  • Lanolin: Lanolin is a waxy ingredient derived from the oils of sheep wool and commonly used in creams, ointments and makeup removers.

    Popular for its’ moisturising properties it creates a protectant layer above the skin. There is no vegan substitute for lanolin but plant and vegetable-based oils such as palm oil are often used instead. This of course comes with its own environmental and ethical challenges.


  • Shellac (aka beetle poop): This dark brown resin comes from the excretions of lac scale insects. It is collected from the branches the insects lived on and used in lacquers and polishes.

To keep things simple download our handy poster of animal ingredients commonly found in beauty products. Do share it with friends and family who would find it useful too!


Vegan vs. Cruelty Free Beauty Products

Often seen as synonymous, to fully understand vegan cosmetics we think it’s important to understand the difference between the labels cruelty free and vegan as they are not the same. A product can often fall into both these categories but there are fundamental differences between the two. 

Let’s start with the differences; the label vegan can be applied to a cosmetics product manufactured completely free of animal ingredients or derivatives of any kind. Alternatively, the label cruelty free shows that the neither the product nor the ingredients used in the product have been tested on animals at any point during the manufacturing process.

A vegan product is animal ingredient free, but not necessarily cruelty free if we look back through its supply chain. A vegan product is free of any animal ingredients but may still have been tested on animals at some point during its’ manufacturing.

Alternatively, a beauty product can be cruelty free but not entirely vegan. Its ingredients have not been tested on animals at any point but it may still contain animal derivatives.


Vegan Brand vs. Vegan Product

When a cosmetic is referred to as vegan, that can mean that the overall brand is vegan or just that particular product. There are many brands out there who are releasing new vegan ranges but they still sell many non-vegan products. If a brand is fully vegan this will be clearly stated on their website and they will not use animal ingredients, by product or otherwise, in any of their products.

    Discover our favourite vegan health and beauty products here.


    Read the label: Vegan certifications and Logos.


    Vegan Logos

    When it comes to cosmetics packaging it can be seriously confusing. There are many different labels on packaging but actually only a handful are official certifications. These official certifications are monitored by independent third parties and mean that you can confidently choose a truly vegan product.

    Currently there are two official, global vegan certifications that you can look for to be 100% sure that a product is vegan.


    Certified Vegan Logo

    Certified Vegan

    Created and monitored by an organisation called Vegan Action, this logo verifies a product as being animal ingredient free.  Although Vegan Action does not audit all factories, the label also signifies that no animal testing was conducted at any stage during the products production.


    The Vegan Society Logo

     The Vegan Society

    Very similar to the Vegan Action label, except that is certified by a hugely respected organisation The Vegan Society, that has been around for over 70 years.

    As with the Vegan Action logo, companies certified by The Vegan Society are not audited but awarded the certification based on the integrity of the company and associated products.


    Cruelty Free Logos

    There are currently three official logos that verify a beauty product as cruelty free (as not tested on animals at any point). Look for the following logos to be 100% sure that the product you are buying is truly cruelty free. 


    The Leaping Bunny Logo

    Leaping Bunny


    Held up as the gold standard of cruelty free certifications, the leaping bunny logo is the one to look for if you’re in doubt. It is the most highly respected certification in the industry as companies awarded this logo are monitored by The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC). The CCIC is made up of nine different animal protection groups and undertakes regular audits of companies awarded The Leaping Bunny logo to make sure they truly stand up to regulation.

    You can download Leaping Bunny’s Cruelty-Free app for iPhones and Androids. It’s free! Search by product type or company name OR scan a product's UPC code.


    Beauty Without Bunnies Logo

     PETA vegan beauty certification

    Created and awarded by PETA, this logo is awarded to companies who fill out an assurance form to PETA that promises their company will not conduct, or commission via a third party, any animal testing. Unlike The Leaping Bunny logo this certification relies largely on the integrity of a company. PETA do not undertake audits. 

    PETA have two logos; one that signifies cruelty free and the second that signifies both cruelty free and vegan. 


    Choose Cruelty Free Logo 

     not tested on animals certification


    Created and monitored by non-profit organisation Choose Cruelty Free, this logo is awarded to companies who pay an annual licensing fee to the organisation and have obtained a valid license to use the logo. 

    To keep things simple download our handy poster of certified vegan and cruelty free logos to use when you’re next looking for new products. Do share it with friends and family who would find it useful too!

    And you’re set! For most of us, taking the plunge into vegan makeup and skincare can feel like a completely overwhelming and daunting task but you now have enough knowledge to confidently choose vegan and cruelty free beauty products. We hope you found the guide useful and will use the handy downloadable posters to refer to time and time again.

    If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to get in touch at hello@acalaonline.com

    Know a friend who would this useful? Please do share this guide on social media and help us spread knowledge and awareness.

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